John Cage: As It Is
Those who consider John Cage to be the king of chaos, ruling over a world of disconnected, random events, may be surprised by this wonderful CD. It comprises early works for solo voice, solo piano and duets for piano and voice. Many of them are conventionally melodic with fairly straightforward harmonies. However, these works map Cage’s shift away from pitch-based structures to time-based structures, conveyed through rhythm and irregular phrasing. And the harmonies often keep the music quite static, suspending time and erasing narrative.
The earliest piece – ‘At East and ingredients’, the last of Three Songs – dates from 1932, when Cage was just 20. Here, Gertrude Stein’s text is delivered with flowing precision, the skipping piano parts perfectly supporting the voice while adding sufficient tension to the pieces’ terse brevity. And it is wonderful to hear such rarely performed works. Pieces more often heard, such as The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (voice and closed piano, which is used percussively) and She Is Asleep (voice and prepared piano), are delivered with equal conviction. Natalia Pschenitschnikova’s voice is lithe yet rich enough for the range of timbres required.
The recording presents great clarity and detail although sometimes spacious acoustics create unnecessary grandeur. Altogether, this is a crucial collection.